We gave it an A-
Watching the quadruple-platinum rise of Gretchen Wilson’s Here for the Party last year was as encouraging a cultural sign as those Dove ads showcasing undie-clad women with non-fashion-model-proportioned curves. Here was a Nashville star more roughneck than prom queen, secure in her own kind of sex appeal, singing about whiskey, Wal-Mart, and keeping her Christmas lights up year-round. If there was a whiff of shtick, it was a fresh and charming shtick, delivered with a big, versatile voice. Even those uncomfortable with Wal-Mart’s business practices could get behind her.
It helped that she had an ace songwriting partner in John Rich, capo di tutti capi of Nashville’s Muzik Mafia collective (Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy). Rich co-wrote Party‘s best tracks — including the rowdy hit ”Redneck Woman” and the double-edged fidelity pledge ”When I Think About Cheatin”’ — and does the same for All Jacked Up, a feisty follow-up that sticks to the debut’s ballads-plus-bar-anthems blueprint while revealing a broader range.
For starters, Wilson virtually corners the market here on product-placement pop. It’s unclear if the album’s title track, a coded boogie-rock ode to her beloved Jack Daniel’s, was inspired by the Busta Rhymes/P. Diddy hit ”Pass the Courvoisier.” But it’s just as catchy (and as hectic), the singer brawling with a girl (who’s ”ten foot two”) and crashing her truck after what should’ve been a quick happy-hour drink. Even better are ”Skoal Ring,” a line-dance number praising the fade circle that a certain chewing tobacco wears into her workingdude’s pants, and ”One Bud Wiser,” an expertly boilerplate honky-tonk anthem that pushes this technique to the limits of credulity. But like Run-DMC’s sneaker-love classic ”My Adidas,” these songs come across less as shilling than as witty declarations of modern identity; if we are what we consume, heck, let’s sing about it!
”Politically Uncorrect,” meanwhile, feels more calculated and less fun, a vague liberal-baiting duet with Merle Haggard that boldly dares Google to prompt ”Did you mean incorrect?” Yet for all her bad-girl brio, Wilson’s secret weapon is her tearjerkers, like the post-breakup morality tale ”He Ain’t Even Cold Yet” and the bad-weather-metaphor blues ”Raining on Me,” which she delivers with absolute authority.
The closing ”hidden” track is the real mold breaker. ”Good Morning Heartache” was written for, and is indelibly connected to, Billie Holiday (although covered memorably by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, among others). Wilson delivers it alongside a lonely jazz guitar and a violin-cum-fiddle and just nails it, tugging against the beat with Lady Day-style phrasing while adding her own brand of soul. It’s a casual, purely musical moment that suggests Wilson will make compelling and unconventional ”country” records for a long time to come.